The Administration’s Approach to the Western Hemisphere

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

On Thursday, March 17th, the Inter-American Dialogue held an event in partnership with the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institute, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where Ambassador Susan E. Rice, National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, offered remarks about the Administration’s approach to the Western Hemisphere. The event was held at the Atlantic Council and moderated by Frederick Kempe, President and CEO of the Atlantic Council.

Just days ahead of the President’s trip to Cuba and Argentina, Ambassador Rice discussed President Obama’s vision for the Western Hemisphere and addressed how his foreign policy agenda has expanded US engagement throughout the Hemisphere. Ambassador Rice started by highlighting many of the recent transitions in the region, including political transformations and the creation of more open partnerships between the US and countries in the region; diversified economies with greater openness to investment;  and the “lifting of millions of people out of poverty.” She continued to say that this transformation has “been mirrored” by a change in the United States’ approach to the region, specifically the improved bilateral relations between the US and other countries in the region under President Obama. Ambassador Rice highlighted the “historic changes” that have occurred in Colombia under Plan Colombia, the economic growth of Mexico, and the increasingly close alignment of the US and Canada. Overall, today, the United States is more deeply engaged in Latin America than it has been in decades and relationships are “as good as they have ever been.”

Next, Ambassador Rice discussed highlights of the President’s trip to Cuba and Argentina. She emphasized the importance of this trip, the first of its kind in over 88 years, and offered various ways in which the President hopes to “create opportunity and spur progress” for the Cuban people. During his trip, the President will meet with both entrepreneurs and civil society leaders, speak directly to the Cuban people at the Gran Teatro, and speak candidly with President Castro about human rights issues. In Argentina, the President hopes to engage Argentina as a strong global partner on various issues, including counter-narcotics and climate change, as well as discussing our economic relationship. During this trip, President Obama and President Macri also hope to announce a number of new partnerships related to combating crime and drug trafficking and promoting sustainable energy development.   

In discussing security, Ambassador Rice specifically highlighted the administration’s work in Central America including Vice President Biden’s recent meeting with the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Along with increased aid to the region, the administration is also working with partners in the region to provide law enforcement with equipment, training, and technology, and cracking down on the flow of guns across the US southern border. After discussing the President’s upcoming trip, she addressed four key issue areas within the President’s approach to the Hemisphere: clean energy and climate change; expanded prosperity and economic opportunity; security; and democracy and human rights. President Obama is working to implement the Paris climate agreement and to engage our partners through the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas. Vice President Biden will also host several Central American and Caribbean partners in May to discuss the issue of climate change. In order to expand economic opportunity in the region, the President hopes to expand the Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas program in order to help 100,000 women “overcome barriers to starting a business,” and the President has created a Feed the Future initiative which will support more than 113,000 farmers from the region as they emerge from poverty. Ambassador Rice also referenced the President’s Young Leaders of the Americas initiative and the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, programs aimed at students and young entrepreneurs participating in cross-cultural exchanges throughout the region.

Finally, Ambassador Rice spoke about the administration’s “unwavering commitment to democracy and human rights,” specifically in Cuba, but also in the region as a whole. She highlighted the United States’ continued support of nations working to build durable, accountable, institutions “upon which democracy” depends, including reforms in Chile, Mexico, and Paraguay. She also acknowledged the growing discontent in Brazil while stating that citizens must “rely on the strength” of their democratic institutions. She concluded her speech emphasizing the importance of increased partnership and collaboration in the region based on mutual interests and mutual respect.